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What a Muppet

Animal
Writing in The Telegraph, former SAS officer, Colonel Tim Collins OBE warns that the  Army must reshape after Chilcot.

Colonel Collins is best know to the public for his eve of battle speech to the Royal Irish Regiment prior to the Iraq invasion. For obvious reasons it is perhaps less well known that he is also a former ‘Tier One’ Special Forces soldier and counterinsurgency specialist. As the name suggests, Tier One are Britain’s most elite troops so it’s reasonable to assume that Colonel Collins knows what he’s talking about. And on the face of it he does. The army must reshape after Chilcot. That much is clear.

It is of intense frustration to me and many others that lessons were not learned in Iraq and subsequently applied in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to counterinsurgency doctrine. Despite good intentions, both countries are now significantly worse off following Western military intervention.

Chilcot should now be the catalyst for change, or in Colonel Collins words, ‘we need to know if it was incompetence or obsequiousness that led to these blunders, and move to crush whatever caused them.’ We already knew that Colonel Collins was a straight talker.

I want to agree with Colonel Collins, I really do. After all, he is a former Tier One Special Forces soldier, a steely-eyed flat bellied killer. I’m a former wheezy part-timer. It’s not going to go well for me if we get into a fist fight. But Colonel Collins is a muppet. There I said it.

He identifies ‘intervention operations’ as the most likely future scenario for which our military should train. In other words, precisely the same kind of campaigns conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan which have so humiliated the British military. So far so good. But rather than addressing the issue of our woeful counterinsurgency strategy, the strategy that has radicalized Muslims across the globe and is the direct cause of so much chaos and suffering in the country’s we have now largely abandoned, we are treated to a barely coherent rant.

Allowing women to serve in combat roles is a ‘crazy social experiment’ imposed upon the military by ‘failed male politicians with no military knowledge’. The Armies of our European partners in NATO are  ’18-30, Club Med-style organisations with a vaguely military theme’ and so it goes on.

According to Colonel Collins what Britain needs is more infantry ‘capable of operations that were once the preserve of Special Forces and Commandos’. He recommends looking to former Commonwealth countries to make up the current shortfall in recruiting. But this isn’t arguing for change, this is arguing for more of the same.

The  disastrous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were characterised by a dramatic expansion and reliance on special forces. We have learned nothing from these campaigns if we do not learn that the tactics of drone strikes, night raids and kill/capture missions undertaken by special forces only weaken the legitimacy of the counterinsurgent and make more insurgents. Politicians and senior officers may have been seduced by the raw courage, bravery and ruthless efficiency of our Tier One troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but, as history now shows, they do more harm than good.

Tactical victories have resulted in strategic failure, not once but twice. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen is seldom a recipe for success.

Colonel Collins isn’t advocating for reform at all. He seeks to perpetuate a flawed doctrine in which he claims expertise but which has only succeeded in plunging the countries we sought to stabilise into further chaos and widen the rift between West and East. As every right minded person must agree, this is precisely not what we ought to do and it’s why Colonel Collins is a muppet. Just don’t tell him I said so.

Purchase your copy of SPIN ZHIRA

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

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A touchstone of terrible realisation

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The summer holidays are just around the corner and I’m reminded of Harry and Alfie’s 2011 trip to Portugal with their mum:

‘MY RETURN HOME the following evening, after another long sweaty journey in the ageing Wolf, was not a triumphant one. Within hours of stepping across the threshold of our magnificent Edwardian stained glass front door with its enormous hexagonal brass pull and letter plate my spirits were thoroughly deflated.

Harry and Alfie were pleased to see me. Full of questions about my experiences with the real soldiers, wanting to know if they’d given me a shooter, not quite believing me when I told them that I’d slept outside on the ground.

Jane barely acknowledged my presence. After I’d bathed the boys and put them to bed I found myself alone in the front room. I stared at my reflection in the antique gilt‑framed mirror above the mantelpiece and knew I was in the shit. But the silent treatment didn’t last long. The following morning Jane told me she was moving out and taking the boys with her. When she explained that she’d found a cottage for rent close to the city of York, near to her parents and in the catchment area of an excellent primary school, I didn’t object. In truth the news came as a relief. I didn’t know how on earth I was going to continue to pay the mortgage on our trophy property in Dulwich.

Since it turned out that Jane was expecting me to continue to foot the bill for her extravagant lifestyle, perhaps I should not have allowed financial considerations to cloud my judgement. I shall forever regret the fact that I did not properly consider the impact of our separation on our children, Harry and Alfie. I reasoned to myself that, given I was bound for Afghanistan, it actually made sense for them to be closer to their much loved grandparents.

Both boys would later make heartbreaking appeals to me to get back together with Mummy. I would do almost anything for my children, including going to fight a war over 3,500 miles away, but I couldn’t even begin to reconcile my differences with Jane. As Alfie would explain to me, he loved Mummy and he loved Daddy, so why didn’t we love each other?

In the summer of 2011, while I was in Canada training for deployment, Jane and her parents took the boys on holiday to Portugal. In one of their holiday snaps Harry and Alfie are standing together on a golden beach at sunset. Harry has a protective arm draped over his younger brother who is dressed in just vest and underpants. Both boys are waving and smiling directly at the camera.

It’s a perfect picture but also a painful one.

In my imagination the boys are waving goodbye to me. The image became not only a visual metaphor for the possibility that I might not return from Afghanistan, but also a touchstone of terrible realisation of the sense of abandonment that I was imposing on my children, the people I loved most in the world.’

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Defending the indefensible as ‘ancient custom’ is no defence at all.

Victor Barrio
The BBC reports that Matador Victor Barrio has been killed by a bull in Spain.

The bull fighting community is reported to be “distressed and very moved”  by his death and Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy has expressed his condolences.

While his death, any death, is tragic and my heart goes out to his grieving family, I’m personally finding it hard to feel too sorry for Victor Barrio. After all, he died doing something he loved which is better than ending your days eating mashed potato and watching endless repeats of Eastenders. I don’t fear the Reaper and when he calls, as call he must, I hope I am similarly engaged in the pursuit of something I love.

But there’s another reason why I’m finding it hard to feel too sorry for Mr Barrio. Lovers of bullfighting  defend it as an ancient art form deeply rooted in national history in much the same way as the appalling practice of bacha basi is excused as ancient custom in Afghanistan – which is no defence at all.

When the Reaper does call for me I won’t be slaughtering bulls for art or raping little boys for culture.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Is the era of ‘cautious optimism’ over?

 

On 6 July 2016, Britain learned that it had joined the invasion of  Iraq in 2003 ‘before all peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted’ that it had ‘sent ill-prepared troops into battle’ and had ‘wholly inadequate’ plans for the aftermath.

Of course, we knew these things already.

Despite the long wait (7 years) the huge cost (£10.4m) and incredible detail (2.5 million words) the Iraq enquiry was less revelation and more affirmation of the things we already knew to be true but dare not speak.

Obama

On the same day, a grim-faced President Barack Obama announced that planned US troop withdrawals in Afghanistan have been shelved, further prolonging the United States’ longest war.

The inability to end the war in Afghanistan does not come as a complete surprise either.

Way back in the spring of 2012, Major General CM Gurganus, USMC confidently asserted, ‘we are winning and the Taliban are losing’. No one really believed him. It was patently obvious that we were not fighting a simple binary war with a winner and a loser.

Later that same year Brigadier Douglas Chalmers, the senior British Commander in Helmand was less assertive and spoke of ‘cautious optimism’ for the future.

Of course, both men were talking bollocks. And I suspect they knew it too.

Just as in Iraq, US led, British backed military intervention in Afghanistan has been disastrous. Many of the findings of the Chilcot report, particularly with regard to post-conflict planning and reconstruction, can be equally applied in Afghanistan.

How did we fail to learn these lessons?

I believe it is because we have a culture of shooting the messenger that pervades both the American and British  Armed Forces. We are so focused on success that we cannot countenance failure. To maintain morale and careers it becomes necessary to spin failure into success, telling people what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. This blindness to failure prevents us from learning from failure.

The language of ‘cautious optimism’ has been very costly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps, after Chilcot, we are now ready to learn this lesson.Spin Zhira header blurb for website v1.3SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

 

 

Return to Gooseberry Hall

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Last weekend saw a long overdue return to Gooseberry Hall. The sun shone, as it always seems to do whenever we visit, and I was reminded of an immaculate Afghan homecoming in April 2012:

‘It was a perfect spring day and Rob picked me up in his fancy open top two‑seater sports car. It’s a car I’ve always coveted. With the roof down and the wind in our hair we flew north along the A429 under azure spring skies, through pristine Cotswold countryside dotted with ancient limestone villages and market towns with quintessential English names; Stow‑on‑the‑Wold, Moreton‑in‑Marsh, Stretton‑on‑Fosse. It was all in perfect contrast to the dry barren dashte which makes up so much of Helmand Province.

Britain was flirting with me that afternoon, displaying her beauty, tantalising me with her delights, proving – if proof were needed – that she was worth defending, even if it meant fighting a war over 3,500 miles away.

At my request, we stopped for a pint at the Virgins and Castle in the historic town of Kenilworth. Built in the fifteenth century, about the same time as the siege of Herat, it first became a pub in 1563 when Britain was still burning Protestants at the stake for heresy.

At that time Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, Akbar the Great, the third and greatest ruler of the Mughal Dynasty controlled the Gereshk valley and much of the rest of Afghanistan. Little has changed in the largely rural district of Nahr‑E‑Saraj in the intervening four and a half centuries, except that under Akbar the Mughal Dynasty was a model of religious tolerance, encompassing Islamic, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist faiths.

In truth I needed a bit of Dutch courage before being reunited with Harry and Alfie. I hadn’t spoken to them since we’d said our goodbyes in the school playground back in January. Although I’d written to them every couple of days, I hadn’t received any return mail. I’d missed them terribly and thought of them often but I had to steel myself for the possibility that they might be less eager to see their Dad than their Dad was to see them.

Gooseberry Hall lies to the north of Kenilworth Castle in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside and is about as far removed from Main Operating Base Price as it’s possible to be. There are no battle tanks parked on the magnificent lawn. Its walls are not adorned with Lads Mags pin‑ups or mimetic cock art. There are no Apache helicopters flying overhead.

To my very great delight it seemed my fears had been unfounded. I didn’t even make it to the front door before Alfie threw himself into my arms, clinging to me in a fierce embrace as I was nearly knocked off my feet by his brother Harry.

It was indescribably good to see them, hear them, smell them, touch them. I held them both tight for as long as I was able until they finally felled me like an old tree, collapsing onto the lawn in a bundle of giggling, laughing, writhing limbs.

Afghanistan serves as a constant reminder of the fragile and tenuous grip with which all life clings to planet earth – something it’s easy to forget in our cosseted lives in the west. Even without the armed conflict being waged inside its borders, it is a harsh and unforgiving place.

Average life expectancy is just 44 years. Pregnancy rather than insurgency is one of the primary causes of premature death. According to the World Health Organisation, one Afghan woman in 11 will die of causes related to pregnancy and birth during her childbearing years. In neighbouring Tajikistan, that figure is one in 430, while in Austria, it is one in 14,300. It’s a figure that dwarfs the estimated 21,000 deaths resulting from the conflict since 2003.

Being reacquainted with life’s cruelty and suffering heightens the appreciation of simple pleasures. Rolling around on Gooseberry Hall’s manicured lawn with my kids was an unforgettable reunion, a moment of pure, unrestrained joy that I will treasure my whole life and take with me, smiling, to my grave.

As my anxieties melted away we were joined by the rest of the Gooseberry Hall Gang (GHG), a chaotic, happy‑go‑lucky collective of kids and pets who all call Gooseberry Hall home and who filled the air with noise and laughter as we played in the sunset.

It was a beautiful evening and the perfect homecoming.’

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Carl Shadrake, Afghan Veteran, speaks for us all.

Carl Shadrake

Sgt. Carl Shadrake talks about how the Battle of the Somme is remembered by soldiers serving today in the British Army.

Former Grenadier Guardsman and Afghan veteran, Carl Shadrake is an extraordinary young man who knows the pain and anguish of close quarter battle better than any other living Briton.

On his first tour of Afghanistan in 2007 the vehicle he was travelling in was targeted by a suicide bomber, killing the driver and seriously injuring Carl. After a long recovery Carl returned to his unit, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and five years later deployed to Afghanistan for a second time in 2012.

Four months into this tour, whilst on a foot patrol,  a colleague close to him detonated an improvised explosive device, losing both his legs. Badly wounded himself by the blast, Carl’s first concern was getting his wounded comrade to safety. It was only after a rescue helicopter had evacuated them both to Camp Bastion that Carl realised the extent of his own injuries.

Carl was put into a medically induced coma and flown by aeromed to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham. It was here, a month later that he learned the tragic news that his younger brother, Jamie, also serving in Afghanistan, had been shot and killed.

Despite everything he and his family have been through he speaks with such modesty and humility when measuring his own sacrifice with those of the 19,240 soldiers who died on the first day of the Somme.

It’s impossible not to contrast the measured tones of this extraordinary man with those of our grasping, self-serving politicians as they jockey for position in the race to lead their respective parties.

Taliban use ‘honey trap’ boys to kill Afghan police

bacha bazi

Anuj Chopra reports that the Taliban are using child sex slaves to mount crippling insider attacks on police in southern Afghanistan, exploiting the pervasive practice of bacha bazi – paedophilic ‘boy play’ – prevalent inHelmand.

Taliban use ‘honey trap’ boys to kill Afghan police

This sickening practice, condemned by the Taliban,  is prevalent across Helmand where young boys become the object of lustful attraction for powerful police commanders. ISAF not only failed to stamp out this vile bent but also shamefully excused it as ancient custom. The Nahr-E-Saraj District Chief of Police was no exception:

“Next on the list was the District Chief of Police, the appropriately abbreviated D‑CoP, Ghullie Khan. Like his boss the Governor, the D‑CoP was predictably involved in the narcotics business. To supplement this income he also used the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) department he commanded to collect illegal taxes from local citizens. There were a number of ISAF apologists who defended this unlawful activity as ‘culturally normal’. I even read a paper on the subject, quite possibly published by the DCSU, the same organisation that had come up with the wizard idea of FEOs and then assigned them male interpreters.

Personally, I was deeply sceptical of this point of view. The truth was that ISAF seemed powerless to prevent the endemic corruption that pervaded every level of the AUP, and not a little ashamed that the primary source of these illegal taxes was a levy on the use of the main highways that bisected the district – all of which had been funded at great expense with international aid.

No one in ISAF was really sure how much the illegal taxation business was worth in Nahr‑E‑Saraj but it wasn’t petty cash. Ghullie Khan had previously been a senior police officer in the neighbouring district of Sangin. He had been removed from this post after an ISAF investigation revealed that he’d been sodomizing little boys there. In the wake of this scandal his boss, Nabi Elham – the Provincial Chief of Police – naturally promoted him to be top cop in Nahr‑E‑Saraj, although it was rumoured that he’d first demanded a bribe of half a million US dollars.

There were ISAF papers defending paedophilia and bribery as culturally normal activities too, although I didn’t waste any time reading them. Culturally normal or not, I reckoned that the citizens of those countries that had helped to fund the district’s new highways would be dismayed to learn that they were now being used to line the pockets of a known pederast, drug baron and all round bad guy.

Ghullie’s favourite son, Zaibiullah was a chip off the old block and had followed his father into the AUP. When a local shopkeeper failed to pay his taxes on time he tied his arms and legs together and drowned him into the Nahr‑E‑Buhgra canal to teach him a lesson. Such was Zaibiullah’s intellect that it was possible to imagine him warning the drowning man that next time he failed to pay Zaibiullah would put a bullet in his head.

It was just as possible to imagine some obscure ISAF department publishing a paper defending drowning as a culturally normal method of deterrence in much the same way that waterboarding was a culturally normal interview technique in the United States.

Neither Ghullie Khan’s parenting skills, nor his predilection for underage boys, nor any of the myriad illegal activities over which he presided as the district’s chief upholder of law and order did much to temper his indignation when he learned of the Qur’an burnings.

However, unlike their Governor or their Police Chief, and despite our worst fears, the residents of Gereshk seemed unmoved by the turmoil engulfing the rest of the country. We waited with bated breath but much to our surprise there were no violent demonstrations, the bazaars remained open, and even the local Taliban’s attempts to exploit the situation seemed half‑hearted.

If I’d thought there was any chance I could pull it off I would have attributed this muted response to my brilliant engagement plan, but even I had to admit that this was unlikely. There were other forces at work here.

In stark contrast, a few months later angry protests ensued following a series of mysterious child abductions. The most likely explanation was that the D‑CoP had resumed his paedophile activities and this was certainly what the citizens of Gereshk appeared to have concluded. Directing most of their anger towards him in a number of emergency shuras, they demanded that he return their children and bugger off, literally, back from where he came.

In MOB Price our intelligence analysts scratched their heads in wonder. What were the citizens of Gereshk so upset about? Surely child abduction was just another one of those culturally normal activities that we Westerners couldn’t get our heads around?

We were at a loss as to what all the fuss was about and lobbied hard for Ghullie Khan to keep his job. Yes, he was a terrible father; yes, he was corrupt; yes, he was a kiddy fiddler; yes, he was facilitating the illicit opium trade but his Danish Civilian Police mentors assured us he was still much better than the last guy, or than any of his potential successors.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Around the coast in eighty waves.

Jonathan Bennet

Jonathan Bennett surfed his way through a midlife crisis. Finding himself ‘without a job, without a girlfriend and without a home’ he decided to go surfing.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/authors/jonathan-bennett/

The start and end point of our respective crises seem remarkably similar. I too found myself contemplating a failed relationship and a failing business while dossing down in an empty house. Jonathan’s answer was to buy a clapped out camper van and surf his way round Britain, sleeping by the sea and washing with a sponge and a pan of warm water. I chose instead to relocate to a landlocked country 3,500 miles away to fight the war on terror, also washing with a sponge and a pan of warm water. We have both written books chronicling our crises; Around the Coast in Eighty Waves and SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand.

And that’s not all we have in common. Jonathan says “surfing is about launching yourself into the unknown and hoping for the best,” which is not so very different from the British Army’s initial deployment into Helmand Province.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

 

LCpl James Ashworth VC

LCpl James Ashworth VC, 1st Bn Grenadier Guards was killed in action on this day four years ago in the district of Nahr-E-Saraj, Helmand Province.LanceCorporalAshworth

James Ashworth – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

LCpl James Ashworth epitomizes the courage and professionalism of all British soldiers whose sacrifice in Helmand has been confounded by incompetence, corruption and deceit.

By tragic coincidence I learned today from a friend in the neighbouring district of Nad Ali that “Nahre Saraj all Taliban. Just Gereshk bazaar government”. This confirms reports from Kabul that much of Helmand Province is either under siege or already in the hands of the Taliban.

In 2013 Catriona Laing, the head of the Helmand PRT earnestly pronounced: “We have presented the people of Helmand with an opportunity. They have grabbed it enthusiastically, confidently… it’s now in their hands for the future.”

I wonder what she would say today?

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

British strikes kill 1,000 IS militants.

British Typhoon

George Allison reports for the UK Defence Journal – motto ‘Impartial and Current’ (snigger) –  that British strikes have killed 1,000 Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq since bombing began with zero civilian casualties.

British strikes kill 1,000 Islamic State militants, no civilians

I don’t doubt the RAF take great care to avoid civilian casualties but war is an ugly business and we’ve heard this kind of thing before. In fact, little has changed since 1758 when Samuel Johnson observed: ‘Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.’

It was much the same in Afghanistan and I can’t help but wonder at the assessment criteria which judged those 1,000 to be IS fighters.

“According to an October 2011 study by the Afghanistan Analysts Network simply being a facilitator was enough to be assigned a codename and subjected to priority effects. The report examined the effectiveness of controversial ISAF night raids aimed at decapitating the Taliban on the battlefield by removing their commanders. This was a tactic much favoured by General Petreus who had replaced McChrystal after his motormouth got the better of him. It revealed that the words leader and facilitator were sometimes used interchangeably in ISAF press releases, although facilitator could just be someone whose house an insurgent group was thought to have used.

The study also revealed that these night raids were not exactly a precision tool. For every leader killed eight other people also died. Since ISAF was very careful not to kill civilians I presumed these other eight must all be insurgent facilitators. American Special Forces were particularly adept at avoiding civilian casualties.

In the first few weeks of our tour I’d been approached by a US Navy Seal team running a Village Stability Operation¹ in Parschow, an area just south of Main Operating Base (MOB) Price. The Seals had been in contact with the enemy when they witnessed a young boy being callously gunned down by insurgents as they fled the scene. The Seals were keen to be first to the truth with the news and wanted to use the MOB Price radio to communicate the brutal and heartless disregard for human life which the Taliban had displayed.

Since isolating the insurgents from the population is a cornerstone of counter‑insurgency operations, this seemed like a good idea to me and I readily agreed, asking only that the Seals provide me with a few more facts before I could produce a transcript. I also explained that I would need approval from Task Force Helmand for broadcast, which needn’t be a problem but was a factor in determining the speed with which we could get the message into the public domain.

The Seal team leader seemed reluctant to submit to a British chain of command but promised to get back to me with more details. When he returned a short while later, he revealed that it might in fact have been a stray American round that tragically killed the boy after he was caught in crossfire. The incident, as with all incidents involving civilian casualties, would now be subject to an internal review. All reporting on the subject would be postponed until this had been completed. I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief that I’d not been tempted to step outside the Task Force Helmand (TFH) reporting chain in order to assist the Seals. In the light of these new details it would have shown appallingly poor judgement on my part which, quite rightly, would have cost me my job.

The next morning I again bumped into the Seal team leader outside the DST office. He cheerily informed me that there was no longer any need for an enquiry. The casualty was not after all an innocent young boy but a baby‑faced Talib fighter whose body had been recovered along with an AK47 rifle. He now wanted me to report a great victory in which ISAF had protected the people of Parschow from vicious insurgents, one of whom had been killed in the battle. Promising to look into it, I made myself scarce.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

¹Village Stability Operation (VSO). A US Special Operations Force initiative the aim of which was to provide enhanced security, governance, and development in strategically important rural areas critical to the Afghanistan campaign but beyond the effective reach of the Afghan government and U.S. conventional forces. It was perhaps insightful that the Parschow VSO was just 3 km due south of Gereshk, the seat of GIRoA District Governance and home to the District Police Headquarters, the main Afghan National Army base and ISAF’s Main Operating Base Price yet still beyond the reach of the Afghan government and US conventional forces.